Friday, January 21, 2011

New Digs

The new January/February Biblical Archaeology Review is out and it has a listing of Holy Land archaeology digs that are accepting volunteers. That is how I went on my first dig at Ashkelon and it was an experience I will never forget. I was one of hundreds of "volunteers" in 1999 who answered Harvard University's ad. Most were students but some of us were post graduate older people who were looking for an experience. One of my room mates was a commercial archaeologist on a "buss man's holiday" and love to dig in the Holy Land.

For some one such experience was more than enough but for others like me there can not be enough. The first time I brushed aside some dirt and viewed an object that had not seen the light of day in over 3500 years I was hooked,

I long to go back and dig again.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Ancient Dump Sites

An archaeologist is very happy to find the “dump site” for an ancient city being excavated. Dump sites are a treasure trove of information. Broken pottery and worn out tools can tell us a lot about the development of a community. The wonderful thing about dump sites is that even with the repeated conquest and destruction of the city their dump sites usually remain undisturbed and added to after the conquest.  With the oldest items left in place on the bottom layers we can see in the layers a time line for the city written clearly for all to see.

I can only wonder what future archaeologist will gather from our massive landfills.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Cultural Changes

Religious cultures change over time and today archaeologists continue to uncover the evidence for that. When Paul began his Christian ministry in what is now Turkey the Roman city of Aphrodisias had a large temple to Aphrodite. The meager remains of that ancient temple gives us evidence that three hundred years after Paul it was converted into a Christian church. Then about a thousand years later it became a mosque. 

Sunday, January 16, 2011

The Legend of Atlantis

The story of the Isle of Atlantis first occurs in Plato's two dialogues the "Timaeus" and the "Critias." Plato's story centers on Solon, a great Greek legislator and poet who journeyed to Egypt some 150 years earlier. While in the Egyptian city of Sais Solon received the story of Atlantis from priests. The priests respected Solon's reputation and cordially welcomed him. They also respected the Athenians, whom they regarded as kinsmen, because they believed their deity Neith to be the same deity as the Greeks called Athena. Therefore, she was believed to be the patroness and protector of both Greece and Egypt.

The story that the priests told Solon was unknown to him. According to ancient Egyptian temple records the Athenians fought an aggressive war against the rulers of Atlantis some nine thousand years earlier and won.
These ancient and powerful kings or rulers of Atlantis had formed a confederation by which they controlled Atlantis and other islands as well. They began a war from their homeland in the Atlantic Ocean and sent fighting troops to Europe and Asia. Against this attack the men of Athens formed a coalition from all over Greece to halt it. When this coalition met difficulties their allies deserted them and the Athenians fought on alone to defeat the Atlantian rulers. They stopped an invasion of their own country as well as freeing Egypt and eventually every country under the control of the rulers of Atlantis.

Shortly after their victory, even before the Athenians could return home, Atlantis suffered catastrophic earthquakes and floods until it disappeared beneath the sea. All of the brave men were swallowed up in one day and night of horror according to legend. This is why the Egyptians were ever grateful to the Athenians.
Also in the story Plato gives is a history of Atlantis that shows how the rulers eroded to such a state were they wanted to conquer everyone. This history had been recorded by Solon in notes that were handed down through his family.

The best archaeological site for the fabled Atlantis is the island of Santorini which is essentially what remains of an enormous volcanic explosion, destroying the earliest settlements on what was formerly a single island, and leading to the creation of the current geological caldera. Some of the houses in ancient city of Akrotiri are major structures, some amongst them three stories high. Its streets, squares, and walls were preserved in the layers of ejecta, sometimes as tall as eight meters, and indicating this was a major town. In many houses stone staircases are still intact, and they contain huge ceramic storage jars, mills, and pottery. 

Noted archaeological remains found in Akrotiri are wall paintings which have kept their original color well, as they were preserved under many meters of volcanic ash. The town also had a highly developed drainage system and, judging from the fine artwork, its citizens were clearly sophisticated and relatively wealthy people. Pipes with running water and toilets found at Akrotiri are the oldest such utilities discovered. The pipes run in twin systems, indicating that the Therans used both hot and cold water supplies; the origin of the hot water probably was geothermic, given the volcano’s proximity. The dual pipe system suggesting hot and cold running water, the advanced architecture, and the apparent layout of the Akrotiri find resemble Plato’s  description of the legendary lost city of Atlantis, further indicating the Minoans as the culture which primarily inspired the Atlantis legend.